Our Best New Songs series is here to give you context on what we’re spinning each week in VMP’s On Rotation playlist — curated by VMP staff, no algorithm needed. Listen and read along below to find out why these artists should be on your radar.
Grimes has incorporated Japanese aesthetics into her work before (like the nonsense text on Visions’ album cover), but “Shinigami Eyes,” and its music video, are directly inspired by Death Note, the Japanese manga and film series. The song title — and Grimes’ red eyes in the visuals — is a reference pulled from Death Note, in which Shinigami Eyeballs are eyes that can see both the names and lifespans of humans floating above their heads. (Or it could also be a reference to her alleged experimental eye surgery, which has been debunked by scientists.) The music video, directed by Brthr and written by Grimes, is a pixelated collage of fantasy and sci-fi that matches the electro-pop chaos of the track itself.
Speaking to Apple Music 1’s Zane Lowe in an interview about the single, Grimes said, “I always say a bunch of stupid shit and get in trouble, but either way. This is the label executive decision song. I love the record, but it’s just like, everyone’s like, what's the deeper meaning? … [I] had just watched Death Note and really liked it.”
“Basically, I wrote the whole space opera thing and this is the only song that wasn’t this big narrative plot,” she added, “Anyway, I actually do really like the song. Sorry. I’m just undermining the marketing strategy.”
“Shinigami Eyes” will be included in Grimes’ upcoming EP, Fairies Cum First, according to a press release, but it's unclear if it will be included on the “space opera thing,” aka her upcoming album with Columbia Records, Book 1.
Grimes’ ‘Visions’ is the VMP Essentials Record of the Month for February 2022; click here to learn more.
“NEW TRICKS: ART, AESTHETICS, AND MONEY” is the first single of the year from Kilo Kish, set to appear on her upcoming sophomore album, American Gurl — her first full-length since 2016’s Reflections in Real Time. The track features Vince Staples, a longtime collaborator with Kish; she provided vocals for “Dopeman” and “Surf” back in 2015 on Staples’ acclaimed Summertime ’06.
Kish said in a statement about the single, “[‘NEW TRICKS’] was inspired by the old quote warning never to bite the hand that feeds you. And though it provides, I feel yanked around by the players, trends, and expectations of our age and industry. Ever-wanting to bite, question, and change.”
In an interview with NYLON, Kish gave additional context to the inspiration behind “NEW TRICKS,” and said: “I had previously written something titled ‘a scathing review, so how do you really feel?’ in my notes app, and portions of this song are from this longer-form piece. Strangely, I wrote it the morning I heard of MF DOOM’s passing, so I was very nostalgic for rap in general as an art form. When I choose to use it in a song now, it's a way for me to talk more freely.”
Kish added, “It’s exploring the structures we have to adhere to and the ever-growing need for ‘content,’ ‘relatability,’ and ‘social presence.’ It can be challenging for independent artists to keep up with these demands and constantly top yourself with the aesthetic quality of your work with little resources (and I'm an artist who is blessed to have at least some).”
Toro y Moi, aka Chaz Bear, has released the first two singles from his upcoming seventh album, MAHAL, “Postman” and “Magazine,” featuring Salami Rose Joe Louis. According to a press release, both tracks address our relationship with media in a changing digital world; reflecting on this theme, Bear said, “It’s interesting to see how we adapt to this new age. We’re so connected, but we’re still missing out on things.”
Both “Postman” and “Magazine” are accompanied by music videos with retro aesthetics, with “Magazine” in particular, directed by Arlington Lowell, getting a colorfully compartmentalized and stylized treatment.
On “Magazine,” the lyrics are sparse but targeted, with Salami Rose Joe Louis repeating, “I don’t know how to get up outta bed / The thoughts of what you said are in my head / I wanna be away from everyone / I shattered all the daylight in the sun.” From there, the song descends into a distorted guitar solo and disjointed outro. The A-side to the single, “Postman,” has a funk groove and even fewer lyrics, repeating, “Mr. Postman, did I get a letter?” for the most part.
Of the record as a whole, Bear said, “I wanted to make a record that featured more musicians on it than any other record of mine. To have them live on that record feels grounded, bringing a communal perspective to the table.”
Making good on that collaborative sentiment, alongside Salami Rose Joe Louis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Sofie Royer and The Mattson 2 will also be featured on MAHAL — Bear’s follow-up to 2019’s Outer Peace and first record with Dead Oceans.
You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘MAHAL’ here.
Rina Sawayama joins Charli XCX on “Beg For You,” the latest single from Charli’s upcoming album CRASH, out March 18 (Sawayama is also expected to release the follow-up to her debut this year). According to a press release, “This is the first time Rina and Charli have worked together after years of friendship.” The lyric video and lofi visualizer for the track, which samples the 2005 dance hit “Cry For You” by September, shows Charli XCX and Sawayama cozying up and often singing cheek-to-cheek. An official music video is set to release later this week.
This February, Yoko Ono will receive quite an 89th birthday present: Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard has curated and executive produced a tribute album, Ocean Child: Songs of Yoko Ono, as well as an accompanying podcast. The second single released from the project sees Japanese Breakfast cover “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do,” originally included on Ono’s fifth album, Season of Glass, released just months after her husband John Lennon’s murder. No stranger to public grief, Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner mourned her mother’s death in her 2021 best-selling memoir, Crying in H Mart. Zauner’s cover simplifies the instrumentation and gets right to the song’s heartbreaking core.
You can pre-order the VMP edition of Japanese Breakfast’s ‘Sable’ soundtrack here.
“Survivor’s Guilt,” featuring G Herbo, is the final single from Saba’s upcoming record, Few Good Things, out February 4, his first full-length release since 2018’s CARE FOR ME. Saba is also releasing a short film of the same name this week, in collaboration with C.T. Robert. Each single has been accompanied by a short statement; for ”Survivor’s Guilt,” the statement reads: “Sheltered and innocent. And guilty by association. When you see enough of your friends go, you learn the true difference money can make, whereas before you could only imagine.”
Saba’s ‘CARE FOR ME’ was the VMP Hip-Hop Record of the Month in October 2018; learn more here.
“Bliss” is the last of numerous singles with dreamy music videos from Amber Mark’s long-awaited debut album, Three Dimensions Deep, out January 28. Like earlier singles “Foreign Things” and “Softly,” this track is danceable R&B on the surface with existential undertones. The album as a whole explores the dimensions of “without, withheld” and “within”; “Bliss” tackles “within” through joy, with Mark singing, “Oh, didn’t know what love is / ’Til I found my bliss.” Mark also performed “Bliss” in a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert for NPR this week — which she described as a “bucket list” moment.
With her first single following her 2020 EP Projections, Tomberlin is back with “idkwntht,” short for “I don’t know who needs to hear this.” In a statement about the song, Tomberlin said, “‘IDKWNTHT’ is a sonic altar of sorts. It’s about taking a moment for remembrance, clarity, and setting an intention for what is to come. Kind of like a song version of writing out your intentions on a full moon. holding onto feelings, words, and past versions of ourselves and our behavior only helps when we can examine experiences once we are outside of them. then we have to let it out, let it go, and try again.”
“Sky River” is a track off Jacques Greene’s EP Fantasy, the otherworldly follow-up to his 2021 LP ANTH01. In a statement about Fantasy, Greene said, “As much as I value my alone time and the subtle things you can pick up around and within yourself in those moments, a certain loneliness and anxiety permeates the quiet at some point. The past couple years created ample opportunity for that anxiety and loneliness to stretch its legs and make itself comfortable. This record was born out of weeks of willing a form of peace and inspiration into my surroundings.”
You can pre-order the VMP edition of ‘Fantasy’ here.
“WHOLE,” the latest single from the experimental pop band CHAI, will also be the theme song for the new Japanese romantic comedy-drama series Koi-senuFutari. CHAI band member Yuuki, who wrote the lyrics, said in a statement about the song: “Sometimes, no one empathizes with you. But is that really a bad thing? I don’t want to make my thing, or someone else’s thing, something to be ashamed of. Because our ‘differences’ may not be our enemies. I wish we could love each other’s little differences and little similarities entirely — that’s the hope behind this song.”
You can get a copy of the VMP edition of CHAI’s third full-length, ‘WINK,’ here.